By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — City residents were back at the council’s throat at Tuesday’s regular meeting to dispute the body’s negotiations with Natale Builders, the contractor for the Little League Drive housing development.
Although the six-month contract for negotiations expired Sept. 20, the council extended the agreement an additional 60 days after an executive session with Natale at the meeting Sept. 18.
Many residents don’t want the development to be built at all.
“At a meeting held a few years ago, nine out of 10 people said they didn’t want it,” Elizabeth Latacki, of Taylor Drive, said Tuesday.
And others are concerned with the sale price of the property.
Roger Puchalski, of Adam Street, presented the council with the assessments for the property at a council meeting in August. The 16.94-acre property has been assessed at or above $500,000 three times in the past 10 years.
But Natale’s offer price is $192,000.
According to city officials, the issue is more complex than comparing those two figures as negotiations likely include arguments over who will pay for infrastructure costs that will amount to nearly $2 million.
The ongoing debate Tuesday night comes at an appropriate time for the city, with a preliminary budget also presented at Tuesday’s meeting.
The document plans for a 1.58 percent increase in city property tax rate, as well as a 5 percent increase in sewer rates.
“The city must anticipate future mandatory improvements to our sewage treatment system that will be dictated by federal (and) state environmental regulatory authorities,” Mayor Ron Pilozzi’s message states.
But city officials are hoping that the housing development could help with such mandates.
As Pilozzi pointed out, the development could bring in much needed tax money as budget figures continue to get tighter.
“I think we did a good job with the budget, but it’s getting harder and harder,” he said. “With the mandates coming from the state, including the 2 percent property tax law ... the way I know how to expand our tax rolls is expanding where we can, if it’s done right.”
When and if the Little League Drive residences are complete with a total of 56 houses, the city will add $13 million to the tax roll. But Natale’s plan to build each house after it’s sold is worrying some residents, who believe there isn’t a demand for the properties in a depressed economy for building and selling $200,000 homes.
Latacki said Natale’s other developments in Western New York aren’t seeing adequate demand.
“Where there aren’t any, it’s just going to be dirt and overgrown grass,” she said.
According to Natale’s website, the builder’s two current construction projects are in Lancaster and Orchard Park.
Lancaster’s, Nicholas Heights, only has 4 sites left to build on, with Amherst’s Collingwoods at about 75 percent full.
Natale also has a few upcoming projects set to begin early next spring, but the company did not return numerous calls about the status of the developments.
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.